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Pakistan: Trapped by its own narrative

New Delhi , Mon, 20 Feb 2012 ANI

New Delhi, Feb.20 (ANI): Although U.S.-Pakistan relations have been going southwards since the Abbotabad raid in May last year, something unusual is happening these days. Unlike the past, when the U.S. would succumb to Pakistani blackmail rather hastily, the US not only seems unfazed by Pakistani antics but has become aggressive in dealing with Islamabad.


The Pakistan Army wanted an apology for the Salala incident which led to the death of 24 Pakistani soldiers in November last year, but the U.S. has refused to oblige. Notwithstanding the indignant Pakistani wailing, drone strikes have resumed with a renewed vigour in tribal areas.


To rub salt into Pakistani wounds, a Congressional sub-committee discussed the issue of human rights violations in Balochistan. Now, three senators have introduced a resolution in the U.S. House of Representatives which says that the Balochi people "have the right to self-determination and to their own sovereign country, and they should be afforded the opportunity to choose their own status."


Meanwhile, Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental world body on finance, has blacklisted Pakistan for not meeting deadlines and flouting recommendations made to combat money laundering and financing terrorists. Pakistani authorities allege that it was an act of the U.S. "pressuring Pakistan to dictate its terms."


While Hafiz Saeed and his friends in the Difa-e-Pakistan council may be making some anti-U.S. noises, the Corps Commanders-Pakistani equivalent of Mullahs in the Iranian Supreme Council-have been conspicuous by their silence. Not a word has come from the GHQ on Balochistan or drone strikes or on Salala. In a similar situation a few months ago, their friendly jehadis would have been displaying Pakistani anger by burning NATO supply trucks. But there are no NATO supply trucks left to burn in Pakistan today.


This is where it gets interesting. Pakistani generals believed that blocking the NATO supply lines to Afghanistan would bring US to its knees within days. But nearly three months after the routes were shut down by Pakistan Army, not once have the U.S. officials publicly asked for resumption of supply lines. Pakistan, it seems, has overplayed its hand. Hit hard by the loss of revenue, Pakistan Army's National Logistics Council, the major financial beneficiary of NATO supplies through Pakistan, seems desperate now. It has tried to compensate for the losses by signing an exclusive contract with National Refinery which has turned private truckers violent.


Many analysts believe that the US can't sustain the extra costs incurred in transporting supplies through Central Asia, which is nearly three times that of using land-routes via Pakistan. But they discount two factors. One, the U.S. forces are in a draw-down mode in Afghanistan and their logistics footprint is continually reducing. Two, the U.S. military and civilian aid to Pakistan was a rent paid to Islamabad for transporting supplies from Karachi port to Afghanistan. If this aid is included in the transportation costs through Pakistan, the NDN routes via Central Asia turn out to be far cheaper and more reliable.


Besides NATO supply lines, the other two things Pakistan believed the U.S. needed it for were intelligence sharing on al Qaeda, and bringing Taliban to the Afghan negotiating table. Since bin Laden's death at the hands of US marines in Abbottabad, U.S. doesn't harbour any expectations of garnering worthwhile intelligence from Pakistan. Moreover, it has been chastened by previous experiences to share any actionable intelligence with Pakistan army or ISI.


Meanwhile, U.S. has manoeuvred to keep Pakistan out of its negotiations with Taliban in Qatar. In fact, there is a recognition among U.S. officials that Pakistan, even if it would want to, is incapable of forcing Taliban into a deal with the U.S. The long-standing excuse of ISI maintaining only a strategic relationship with the Taliban, with no operational control, has come back to bite Pakistan now.


Although Pakistan was designated a Major Non-NATO Ally by the U.S. in 2004, there was no strategic congruence between their goals in the region. Now, with little that Pakistan can offer to the U.S., the transactional relationship also seems to be on a wane. It is still not the end of the road, but the dominant hostile narrative in Pakistan about the U.S. isn't helping matters.


Pakistan army's international outlook has been shaped by its hostility towards India. In the generals' self-serving view, Pakistan's failure to save East Pakistan or wrest Kashmir from India has more to do with U.S. policies and less to do with their own misdeeds, poor planning and lack of ability. They believe that the U.S. and India continue to conspire against the only nuclear Islamic state.


The problem with this approach is that, once such a Islamic-nationalistic narrative is created, it becomes difficult for Pakistan government to offer any concessions without risking a popular backlash. After loudly proclaiming that confronting U.S. is the most important issue facing Pakistan, the generals will find it difficult to justify compromises, even to their own rank and file. By asking the parliament to take a call on resuming NATO supply lines, Kayani has tried to pass the buck-and direct the popular anger-on to the civilian government.


Such tactics may provide a temporary reprieve in the transactional relationship between U.S. and Pakistan but it can't bear a permanent solution. Pakistani generals are caught between where their sympathies lie and where their interests lie. Their strategy of marrying Pakistan's Islamic identity to nuclear weapons, anti-U.S. and anti-India posturing has imposed unbearable costs on the country. Today, Pakistan stands politically and economically isolated with question marks about its very existence. That reality is no longer trapped in the narrative.


Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of Mr. Sushant K Singh. Mr. Singh heads the National Security programme at the Takshashila Institution, and is the editor of Pragati-The Indian National Interest Review. By Sushant K Singh (ANI)


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